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April 17, 2007 |

By John Williams | Film | April 17, 2007 |

Absurdism is the abstract expressionism of the comedy world. The same way someone might stand in front of a Jackson Pollock and claim that a kindergartner could do better, someone might watch certain Monty Python sketches and wonder where the jokes are. The Pollock critic doesn’t understand (or won’t admit) that we don’t just crave representation from art — a kindergartner drawing a three-legged purple splotch that may be the beginnings of a dog hasn’t bested Mr. P. Likewise, Jeff Foxworthy isn’t funnier than the Python troupe just because you know you’re supposed to laugh at what comes after “if.”

At its best, Aqua Teen Hunger Force is the reigning king of absurdism, completely uninterested in providing pleasure to the literal-minded. In episodes on the Cartoon Network that last about 11 minutes each, the aggressively nonsensical series follows the exploits of three housemates in the New Jersey suburbs: an obnoxious, pretty dumb milkshake named Master Shake; an even dumber, childlike rolling meatball named Meatwad; and a relatively sensible order of French fries named Frylock, who tries his best, with little result, to keep the other two from getting into extraordinary amounts of trouble.

It’s the type of show that would cause most of our parents’ heads to explode, not because it’s vulgar and violent — though it often is — but because it’s truly senseless, and even more so when stretched (past its breaking point) to 90 minutes on the big screen. David Lynch would complain that this movie is too willfully obscure.

The story loosely revolves around the trio’s efforts to find a missing part for a mysterious and powerful exercise machine called the Insanoflex, which machine eventually goes berserk — dropping metallic eggs that will later birth baby Insanoflexes, turning the Hunger Force’s gross neighbor, Carl, into an even grosser muscular freak, and leaving fiery wreckage in its wake. But this summary doesn’t do the movie justice. It’s much, much weirder than that.

Don’t believe me? It also features occasional cutaways to a talking slice of watermelon in outer space, who’s monitoring the activity in Jersey and whose sidekick is Neil Peart, the drummer from Rush. The large cast also includes the Plutonians, a pair of jagged-edged space creatures who covet the Insanoflex; the Mooninites, two residents of the … moon crudely drawn like aliens from an Atari 2600 game; and MC Pee Pants, a child rapper who is actually a spider. (For my money, the Mooninites are the funniest characters in the Aqua Teen universe. I would gladly sit through a four-hour epic about them, but they make only brief appearances here.)

Things start strong, with a prelude that updates the classic talking concessions who stroll across the screen to greet moviegoers, followed by an opening shot of the Sphinx pyramid, under which a series of not-so-helpful titles fade in: Egypt … A million years ago … 3:00 p.m. … 1492 … New York.

The best moments of the show are like that — silly but sharp. The movie loses its way for long stretches, though, when it snowballs surreality at the expense of actual, if completely ridiculous jokes.

The watermelon visits the planet in the movie’s bloody grand finale, which threatens to become a conventional (by ATHF standards) send-up of dramatic genealogical revelations along the lines of Darth Vader’s confession to Luke. Like the movie as a whole, the scene outstays its welcome, rescued in the end by another funny cameo by singing concessions.

Several hearty laughs don’t seem enough to justify asking pajama-wearing potheads to pay ten bucks for a product they get in a higher grade at home. But the problem (or blessing) is that the movie is immune to criticism. One could say it’s only good enough to be of interest to die-hards and cultists, but the Aqua Teen fan base is composed entirely of die-hards and cultists.

Still, while normally I would argue that if you’re the kind of stick in the mud who doesn’t appreciate things like a chicken/humanoid robot named Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future who tells meandering, untrustworthy stories about ancient times, then Aqua Teen hasn’t failed you, you have failed Aqua Teen. But I’m a big fan of the show, and the fact is, it kind of fails us here.

If the guys behind Hunger Force don’t care for that conclusion, they can take comfort in that old Mooninite saw: “Gouging expletives into another’s car … is a sign of trust, and friendship.”

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s an editor at Harper Perennial and a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

Where Meaning Goes to Die

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters / John Williams

Film | April 17, 2007 |

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